Breast Cancer & Melanoma Awareness

Sun shines in a brilliant blue sky with two clouds and three pink breast cancer awareness ribbons centered in middle of the sky.
This not-just-for-girls topic is something we've got to talk about.
Usually we like to live in the space of happy respect for the sun where we can enjoy its warmth and feel-goodness in desired amounts we control. But...
Did you know there is a correlation between breast cancer and melanoma?
What you need to know. If you are a breast cancer survivor, you have a higher risk of developing certain forms of skin cancers. And the risk is reciprocal meaning, if you have had skin cancer, your risk of developing breast cancer is increased.
  • If you’ve had breast cancer, your risk of developing melanoma is up to 2.58x greater than normal.
  • Females with melanoma have an up to 1.4x greater chance of developing breast cancer.
  • If you have the BRCA2 gene, as a breast cancer survivor this substantially increases your risk of melanoma.
  • If you have the CDKN2A gene, as a melanoma survivor this increases your risk of breast cancer.
According to a study by the International Journal of Cancer,
  • Female breast cancer survivors were 16% more likely to develop cutaneous melanoma than women who have not had breast cancer.
  • Female melanoma survivors had an 11% increased risk of being diagnosed with breast cancer as second cancers. 
More strikingly:
  • "Among young [breast cancer] patients, we observed a 46% elevated risk of a second [cutaneous melanoma]. Women who underwent radiation therapy exhibited a 42% increased risk for [cutaneous melanoma].”
  • The study also found that patients with a mutated BRCA2 gene, which increases risk for developing breast cancer, and those with a mutation on the melanoma susceptibility gene, CDKN2A, are both more likely to develop the other cancers compared to those without these gene mutations.
Why the correlation? I don’t know if it's a genetic link or due to breast cancer treatment.
What also grabbed my attention from is the explanation that there are two types of DNA changes - the genetic type that are inherited from parent to child, and DNA changes that occur over the course of a lifetime as a result of the natural aging process or exposure to chemicals or sunlight in the environment.
"The skin is the largest organ of your body and is the most vulnerable to DNA damage caused by the sun’s ultraviolet rays.” -
What can we be doing for prevention?
1) Early detection, lifestyle changes and increased awareness.
  • Everyone, especially survivors should conduct regular self-exams of the skin and breasts, schedule annual mammograms, and annual scanning by your dermatologist.
  • Everyone should consider lifestyle changes like quitting smoking, maintaining a healthy weight, exercising regularly and minimizing alcohol intake to help reduce breast cancer risk.
  • We need to monitor our skin monthly and do regular self-skin checks in addition to annual visits to a dermatologist.
  • Increase your skin awareness to chemical exposure - start with reading the labels of your cosmetics, lotions, sunscreens and clothing you wear. 
2) Make a few changes.
What to avoid in cosmetics, deodorants and lotions:
  • Cosmetic and lotion ingredients known to be toxic causing hormone disruption or to be carcinogenic such as but not limited to: phthalates, parabens, sodium laureth sulfate (SLES) and sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS), triclosan, synthetic fragrance and Chemical UV filters like Octinoxate and Oxybenzone.
  • Ingredients in deodorants known to be toxic and cause reproductive harm include: parabens, triclosan, phthalates, propylene glycol and aluminum.

Thoughts: The green/detoxed beauty movement is here to stay and there are now many cosmetics and lotions formulated without or fewer hormone disruptors at different price points. Natural deodorants and anti-perspirants without aluminum - this is a tough one for men and women alike! I personally keep several in the drawer. I use a non-aluminum formula as often as possible (currently loving Farmacy Freshen Up). Acknowledge there is a lot of trial and error in this category and set a goal to decrease the usage frequency of aluminum in your deodorant a few times a week.

What to avoid in sunscreens:

  • Chemical sunscreens especially with ingredients like Octinoxate and Oxybenzone
Thoughts: Awareness that all skin types need sun protection is driving the sunscreen industry to innovate products that blend better with all skin tones.  I recommend physical (mineral) sunscreens over chemical sunscreens whenever possible.
Physical sunscreens are made of minerals (Zinc Oxide or Titanium Dioxide) that sit on top of your skin and form a barrier whereas chemical sunscreen is absorbed and reacts with your skin in order to sun protect it.
Eventually all sunscreens will break down or rinse off the skin so also consider that mineral sunscreen is better for the environment whereas chemical sunscreen is impacting life in our oceans.

(Sunscreen adds up - quantity and cost - if you consider that you’re supposed to wear it every day and reapply it every two hours!)

What to avoid in clothing:

  • Avoiding chemicals in clothing is a challenge so my recommendation is to increase your awareness about the textile industry and the impact this has to the unsuspecting consumer.
  • NRDC and REACH are both focused on reducing pollution and restricting chemicals in the textile process. OEKO-TEX certification means products are tested free of more than 360 chemicals commonly found and are rated safe for prolonged, direct contact on skin.
Thoughts: Like green beauty, this is a movement that has been slower to take hold in the U.S. with higher awareness in European and other countries globally. I am hoping that demand from large brands continues to increase causing more textile manufacturers to shift their factories to sustainable practices using fewer chemicals in the textile process and removing chemicals from fabrics so consumers will have more options readily available and at more affordable prices. Already I am noticing stores like Macy’s ocassionally carry items including linens and pajamas made with OEKO-TEX certified textiles. 
It’s a movement that consumers can help drive by asking the big brands to change their practices and is driven by consumer safety and health as well as environmental awareness and a desire for sustainable practices. Ultimately fewer chemicals in our clothing and textiles supply chain will have a lasting environmental impact.
According to dermatologists, the #1 recommendation for managing the sun and your skin is to wear sun protective clothing. A rating of UPF 50+ means more than 98% of harmful UV rays are blocked.
In addition to sun protective clothing, it is recommended to wear sunscreen, a hat and sunglasses and seek shade while avoiding the outdoors during times of day when the sun is strongest. 

Note, UV rays happen year round, they are not seasonal. 80% of UV rays can penetrate through cloud cover, and reflect off water and snow.

The takeaway?
  • In addition to early detection, there’s a lot you can do to manage your exposure to chemicals and sunlight in the environment.
  • Survivors of breast cancer need to be meticulous about sun protection.
  • Folks with a history of melanoma need to maintain frequent self-checks for breast and skin changes.

The investment in chemical free products and UV blocking clothing as preventative measures is worth it because healthy skin is essential for your health.


Sources cited:

High Number of Certain Skin Cancers Linked to Increased Risk of Breast Cancer,

Archives of Dermatology: Arch Dermatol. 2011;147(12):1395 1402. doi:10.1001/archdermatol.2011.1133. Geoffrey B. Yang, BS; Jill S. Barnholdtz Sloan, PhD; Yanwen Chen, PhD; et all

International Journal of Cancer: 2004 Sep 20;111(5):792 4. Association between female breast cancer and cutaneous melanoma. Goggins W, Gao W, Tsao H)

Malignant melanoma and breast carcinoma: a bidirectional correlationW L Ho 1H ComberA D K HillG M Murphy,

Breast Cancer and Increased Melanoma Risk – What you need to know if you’ve had breast cancer By Jennifer Garrick, FNP-BC DCNP,

JAMA Dermatology, "Risk and Survival of Cutaneous Melanoma Diagnosed Subsequent to a Previous Cancer” Geoffrey B. Yang, BSJill S. Barnholtz-Sloan, PhDYanwen Chen, PhDet al 

Top 15 Toxic Ingredients to Avoid in Cosmetics,

Encourage Textile Manufacturers to Reduce Pollution,

Understanding REACH,

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About our founder

I started Heliades with the intent to combine fashion with function by designing sun protective apparel with an elevated look that doesn't scream beach, resort or activewear. My goal is to create stylish options to protect our skin every day, for every occasion.

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